March 11, 2010

Pirates' defense receives a boost

PAUL BETIT

— By

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20081228_Pirates

Gordon Chibroski

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20090320_Pirates

Gordon Chibroski

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Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The Portland Pirates got a big boost Tuesday from the Buffalo Sabres on the eve of the Calder Cup playoffs.

Defenseman Chris Butler returned to the Pirates after spending nearly four months in the NHL with the Sabres.

Butler, who spent the first two months of his first pro season with Portland, will be in the lineup tonight when the Pirates open a best-of-seven series against the Providence Bruins at the Dunkin Donut Center in the first round of the Atlantic Division playoffs.

''He was an extremely solid player for us, and he seamlessly transformed his play here into the start of his NHL career,'' said Portland Coach Kevin Dineen. ''Now we get the opportunity to benefit from all the experience he got from playing at the NHL level this year. That's a real positive for us.''

Butler, selected by the Sabres in the fourth round of the 2005 NHL draft, seemed happy to return for the playoffs.

''This is the most exciting time for any team,'' he said. ''I forgot just how good a group of guys we have here and how well everyone got along. This is a fun team.''

Buffalo assigned Butler to the Pirates after failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

''It's a big boost for our club to have him back,'' said Portland captain Tyler Bouck. ''Even though he's a young guy, he provides some stability back there. He's a great player and we're happy to have him.''

In 47 games with the Sabres, Butler, who turned pro after three seasons at the University of Denver, had two goals and four assists. His plus-11 rating was highest among Buffalo's defensemen.

By the end of the season, Butler, 22, was paired with veteran Craig Rivet as the second defensive tandem on the depth chart.

''We were constantly talking in between shifts and in between periods,'' Butler said. ''(Rivet) was never barking orders at me. He was always great towards me as far as teaching me to be a better partner and getting communications right. It was a great experience.''

On Saturday, Butler scored his second NHL goal when the Sabres ended their season with a 6-1 victory at home against the Boston Bruins.

''My dad and brother were in town to see the game, so it was kind of special,'' he said.

Butler doesn't expect it will take long to adjust to the AHL.

''I know what the league is like,'' he said. ''We played Providence quite a few times when I was here, so I know their players. I don't think it's going to take any time for me to readjust myself.''

In 27 games with the Pirates in the first two months of the season, Butler had two goals and 10 assists.

''He's a top defenseman,'' Dineen said. ''He was a hard guy to take out of the lineup at the NHL level. Obviously he will be seeing a lot of minutes here.''

NOTES: After playing 55 games with the Pirates, defenseman Matt Macdonald returned to the ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones, who are scheduled to play the Wheeling Nailers tonight in Game 4 of their best-of seven playoff series. Macdonald had two goals and four assists with the Pirates. During the Calder Cup playoffs, the Stadium Restaurant and Sports Bar across Free Street from the Civic Center in Portland will televise all Pirates road games. Following the radio broadcasts of Portland Sea Dogs baseball games, fans can listen to Pirates playoff games on 1400 AM and 1490 AM in Portland, and WEZR 1240 AM in Lewiston-Auburn, WTME 780 AM in Rumford and WKTQ 1450 AM in South Paris.

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

pbetit@pressherald.com

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